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Mother nature was kind to the 400 racers who contested the epic TaiwanKOM Challenge in the Taroko Gorge this weekend. As the riders climbed well over 3200 meters, not a single rain drop fell –a stark contrast to the downpour that saw many riders pull out of the race the year prior.
Now in its fourth year, this year’s TaiwanKOM Challenge attracted its biggest international attendance yet with around 200 non-Taiwanese riders coming from 32 different countries to tackle one of the longest and toughest paved hill climbs in the world.
Out of the 46 women competing, media and organisers were looking to two riders especially to contest for the win: Eri Yonamine (Saxo Bank FX securities), the 24-year-old Japanese national hill climb, time trial and cross country mountain bike champion, and Marg Fedyna, a 51-year-old endurance racer and the 2014 TaiwanKOM winner.
Vying for glory, recognition and a $200,000 NTS ($8,654 AUD) prize purse, both riders got themselves in the main group of the co-ed peloton and tucked in behind their male compatriots.
But they weren’t the only women in the bunch. Another four women stuck it out in the main group, despite a high tempo and several attacks in the men’s race.
When, around 60 kilometers into the race, it became clear that her competition wasn’t going to simply drop off, Yonamine picked up the pace, taking her coach and manager Kyosuke Takei with her.
“At first, I thought it was suicide! They were surging ahead so quickly,” said Fedyna.
But this was perfectly timed attack and Eri gapped the other women. What started as a 15 =-second lead at the 65km mark eventually grew to 12 minutes and even 20 minutes at one point.
“She had a pacer with her and the group I was riding in wasn’t going fast enough. I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to catch her,” Fedyna recalled.
Eventually she got a few of the guys to pick up the pace but Yonamine’s gap was too great. Meanwhile, other riders weren’t far behind.
In the end, Yonamine crossed the finish line at 4:03:29. Fedyna rolled in with a time of 04:20:31. While that time is well over 19 minutes faster than Fedyna’s time of 2014, it was 17 minutes short of the win. Behind Fedyna, Hsiao Chia Tseng came in just a minute and a half later.
Fedyna said she wasn’t disappointed to have lost her title, per se. She had given it her best and Yonamine had simply been faster.
With an ever growing palmares, Yonamine says she’s ready for the next level and hopes to join a team in the United States or Europe for next season, using her TaiwanKOM win as another demonstration of her well-rounded strength.
Over the last few years, the TaiwanKOM has gained a lot of international esteem yet the women only made up 11 percent of the riders. In the past, professional riders like Nicole Cooke, Tiffany Cromwell and Jo Hogan have raced the Challenge, and the Taiwan Cyclist Federation want to see more professional female athletes to participate with a promise to better the prize purse for women in the future.
Additionally, the federation is working to turn this event into a UCI race, in which case a separate event will be held for amateur cyclists.